Addisons Campaign and Grays Elegy.

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Addisons "Campaign" and Grays "Elegy".

Addison's "Campaign" and Gray's "Elegy". (Joseph Addison)(Thomas Gray) Rodney Stenning Edgecombe.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 Heldref Publications

In the meditation set at the heart of the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which he completed in 1750, Gray notes that deprivation curtails opportunities for evil as well as for good. Chief amongst these is violent individual ambition, which Gray deplores (in marked contrast to Addison's "Campaign" of 1704, which had celebrated the military success of the Duke of Marlborough):

The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise.
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.
(Gray, Collins, and Goldsmith 129-30)
These strophes also figured in an earlier version of the "Elegy," the "Stanza's Wrote in a Country Church-yard" (ca. 1742), in which Gray chose figures from Roman rather than English history to make his points:

Some Village Cato [that] with dauntless Breast
The little Tyrant of his Fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Tully here may rest;
Some Caesar guiltless of his Country's Blood. (Gray and Collins 37)
Although at first glance the reference to "senates" in the later text might suggest an unedited carryover from the earlier, more Latinate one, it is clear that Gray was writing with the entire panorama of human history in mind. For although he let the culturally specific "senates" stand, he pluralized the noun to give it a general application to all significant bodies of government, the English Houses of Parliament amongst them. And once we accept that the senates in question are not only those of Rome but also those of England the historical reference opens up. When Gray wrote about Caesar in the first version of the "Elegy," he had in mind the military campaigns in Bithynia and Gaul by which the leader qualified himself for political office and by which he aspired to an oriental, absolute power, the "throne" that would displace the Senate in course of time. But when Gray altered the antonomasia, Cromwell did not tally with Caesar quite as neatly as Hampden did with Cato, for even though, like Caesar, Cromwell had triggered a civil war, he corresponded more closely to Brutus, while Caesar corresponded to Charles.

However, Gray seems to have had an additional candidate in mind for the category of people who "wade through slaughter to a throne." Recent history had seen the Duke of Marlborough approach a throne (not in act of usurpation, but in the sense of gaining the favor of the monarch) by his success in a bloody international war, which Addison had documented in "The Campaign." This poem contains no fewer than three collocations of blood and bodies of water: "Plunging through seas of blood his fiery steed / Where'er his friends retire, or foes succeed" (1: 46); "Thousands of fiery steeds with wounds tranfixed / Floating in gore, with their dead masters mixt" (1:50); and "With floods of gore that from the vanquish'd fell, / The marshes stagnate, and the rivers swell" (1: 51). Roger Lonsdale, in The Poems of Gray, Collins, and Goldsmith, cites Pope's Temple of Fame and Blair's Grave as the most immediate sources for the sea-of-blood topos in Gray's Elegy, and in both these instances the stance is one of outraged rejection. Addison, on the other hand, registers little sense of horror, but blandly celebrates Marlborough as an ineluctable force of nature, an idea he seems to have borrowed from Marvell's "Horatian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland": "And pleased the Almighty's orders to perform, / Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm" (1: 50).

If Gray was thinking of "The Campaign" when he wrote of people who wade "through slaughter to a throne," it would almost certainly account for his shifting from bloody tyrants to venal, fulsome poets. Addison had celebrated the Battle of Blenheim in just this way, and, securing political advancement from the Whigs,